June 5, 2015
Following on the heels of its election of its first female bishops, rising voices within the Church of England are calling for a move away from traditional Scriptural and liturgical language of God as male towards a more “expansive language and imagery about God,” as the “Transformations Steering Group” wrote in their petition to the synod of bishops. It is claimed that some priests have already begun quietly referring to God as “she” and “mother” in hopes of appearing more “inclusive,” although any liturgical changes would require the approval of the General Synod.
The Women and the Church watch group has argued that with the consecration of Rev. Libby Lane as its first female bishop in January, the church “has accepted that women are equally valued in God’s sight and can represent God at all levels,” as stated the Rev. Emma Percy, chaplain of Trinity College Oxford and a member of Watch, as reported on The Guardian.
Rev. Jody Stowell also correctly noted that “Orthodox theology says all human beings are made in the image of God, that God does not have a gender,” but then went on to say, “He encompasses gender – he is both male and female and beyond male and female. So when we only speak of God in the male form, that’s actually giving us a deficient understanding of who God is.” However, others in the church have objected that Christ Himself refers to God as Father, and surely Christ did not give us a deficient understanding of God.
Hillary Cotton, the chair of the Women and the Church argued that untraditional feminine language about God is necessary for women to serve in the church, stating, “We are [also] going to miss some of the opportunities that otherwise particularly women might feel themselves called to,” although such a liturgical change was obviously not necessary for women to rise to the bishopric in the Church of England.
Given the increasing acceptance of a broader and untraditional terminology for God amongst laity and clergy alike, it seems plausible if not likely that the Anglican Synod could adopt such liturgical changes in the near future, thus moving one step further away from their historical Christian roots. Dialogue between the Anglican and Russian Orthodox Church, which venerates highest among men Mary, the Mother of God, was already significantly weakened by the election of female bishops. Met. Hilarion Alfeyev stated in July, 2014 “We see this process as representing the diversion of the Anglican Church and a whole range of Protestant denominations from the initial church order and as following modern liberal trends,” and such liturgical changes as are currently being discussed stand to only further the divisions.